San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Honors the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians and Native Wildlife During Historic Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 11, 2021) – For thousands of years, members of the Kumeyaay Nation have cared for both the land and native wildlife in a large area encompassing much of Southern California and northern Mexico—including land that is now home to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In celebration of their legacy and culture, tribal members of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, other San Diego community members and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance team members marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day with an event  to celebrate the Kumeyaay people. 

“We are immensely happy to come together with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for today’s important event,” said Johnny Bear Contreras, San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians tribal elder, cultural committee member and artist. “We have been part of San Pasqual Valley since time immemorial, as San Pasqual is one of 18 bands in San Diego County that make up the Kumeyaay Nation. Our connection to the land and wildlife spans tens of thousands of years—and our stories of strength, perseverance and history have been kept alive for generations,

helping people from all backgrounds understand the connection between people, wildlife and the land.”  

Today’s celebration was hosted by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The event included various informative presentations that were kicked off with an opening ceremony, featuring remarks by tribal members, a traditional blessing ritual and prayer songs.  

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Baribault said, “as the indigenous people of the region, the San Pasqual Band is a vital partner in the efforts to protect local wildlife and ecosystems. This Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration—the first of its kind at the Safari Park—represents an engaged community working together to protect the most biodiverse county in the contiguous United States.”

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts are only possible through strong collaborative partnerships, like the one being forged with the Kumeyaay tribes. As an example, the organization worked closely with tribal members in efforts to protect burrowing owls, a species at risk of local extinction. Tribal members participated in blessing ceremonies at each reintroduction site. Earlier this summer at the Safari Park, the San Pasqual Band named three critically endangered California condor chicks—the largest flying bird in North America and an important symbol in many Indigenous cultures. 

“Conservation starts with people; and through better understanding our interconnectedness with nature, we can better protect wildlife,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Our efforts to safeguard wildlife, ecosystems and people are stronger when we work together and honor the knowledge and expertise of those in our community, which includes indigenous peoples.”

           Throughout the day, Safari Park guests had the opportunity to experience unique activities, including a wide array Kumeyaay art, food, stories and songs that shared the Kumeyaay culture and connect guests to wildlife. Guests also enjoyed special 2.5-mile hikes guided and narrated by tribal members as well as a closing ceremony.

“The Kumeyaay people used traditional knowledge to thrive on the land,” said Contreras. “It’s celebrated in our cultural expressions, like songs and stories, that are used to inspire, teach and help find meaning.”


About San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is a nonprofit international conservation leader, committed to inspiring a passion for nature and creating a world where all life thrives. The Alliance empowers people from around the globe to support their mission to conserve wildlife through innovation and partnerships. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supports cutting-edge conservation and brings the stories of their work back to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park—giving millions of guests, in person and virtually, the opportunity to experience conservation in action. The work of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance extends from San Diego to strategic and regional conservation “hubs” across the globe, where their strengths—via their “Conservation Toolbox,” including the renowned Wildlife Biodiversity Bank—are able to effectively align with hundreds of regional partners to improve outcomes for wildlife in more coordinated efforts. By leveraging these tools in wildlife care and conservation science, and through collaboration with hundreds of partners, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has reintroduced more than 44 endangered species to native habitats. Each year, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s work reaches over 1 billion people in 150 countries via news media, social media, their websites, educational resources and the San Diego Zoo Kids channel, which is in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. Success is made possible by the support of members, donors and guests to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, who are Wildlife Allies committed to ensuring All Life Thrives.